California real estate mogul Fred C. Sands thought he had commissioned the design for a $20 million Bel-Air dream house that would be like no other.
Then two years ago, a couple of architects took a fateful drive down a winding street about seven miles away in Beverly Hills.
At a construction site, one architect remarked on the fine detailing on a pediment piece over a doorway. Inside, the two found striking similarities to the Tuscan-style villa that their boss, William Hablinski, had just spent more than 3,800 hours over a year and a half creating for Sands.
''This was a jewel box, our jewel box, and somebody ripped it off,'' Sands said. ``Hablinski promised us this would be one of a kind.''
Outraged on his own and on behalf of his clients, Hablinski filed a lawsuit against the builders and owners of the Beverly Hills property. Referring to the Beverly Hills property as the ''copycat house,'' the suit alleged copyright and trademark infringement, unfair competition and other complaints.
After a three-week trial in Los Angeles, a six-person jury ruled in April in Hablinski's favor and awarded him nearly $6 million. The jury found that the defendants conspired with a former Hablinski employee to copy plans for the Sands house and use them to build the Beverly Hills home.